Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Friday, August 28, 2009
How to Feel Safe About Robot Gods Without Really Trying
A piece by science fiction author David Brin (some of whose fiction I have enjoyed, and much of whose non-fiction I have found usefully provocative without finding much to agree with) proposes a real way to feel safe with artificial intelligence. The piece has attracted quite a lot of attention among the usual Robot Cultists, the so-called Singularitarians and Transhumanists and so on, because it says a number of silly things (er, I mean, Very Serious things) about how post-biological superintelligence should be dealt with through the "engineering into them" of Enlightenment values and so on. Some of us who recall how key figures in the Enlightenment actually felt about transcendentalizing discourses (of which nerd-rapture Singularity discourse conspicuously is one) and those varieties of religiosity that posit fancies as facts (as handwavers about AI, "mind" uploading, nanotech genies-in-a-bottle and the like all conspicuously do) might be given pause by Brin's taking up of hyperbolic transcendentalizing futurological pseudo-science in the name of Enlightenment values, but of course this sort of thing is rather par for the course (see this and this and this, for example), however wrongheaded it is. It is also worth mentioning, I suppose, if we must, that people are interpellated and habituated into reasonable, generous, civic-minded values through their ongoing participation in societies -- values are not engineered and neither are people, properly so-called -- and to say or imply otherwise is really just to denigrate actually-existing people and actually-existing values in the plural present while pretending instead to be talking about hypothetical post-persons in "the future" (that is to say, to indulge in the usual futurological denigration of freedom in the name of a childish, brutalizing instrumental amplification). But quite apart from all that, it occurs to me that the peace of mind of these futurologists might also benefit from my own preferred method of feeling safer about superintelligent Robot Gods in our midst, which is, very simply, to notice that they don't exist.